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Strange Friday

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Something strange happened this afternoon.

After lunch, me and my family watched Mel Gibson’s controversial film The Passion of the Christ on VCD. At exactly 3:00 PM, the crucifixion scene was shown.

The hour of great mercy. What a coincidence.

I am sure it was a sign. But what does it mean?

The Passion of the Christ

The Passion of the Christ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mindoro’s nature-filled Port of the Galleys (Puerto Galera, Mindoro Oriental)

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Stormy days such as what we’re having right now (due to tropical storm Pedring) sometimes make me want to reminisce a couple of memorable sunny days of my life. Puerto Galera immediately comes to mind.

I’ve been to Puerto Galera many times that I already lost count (it’s just beside my wife’s hometown of Abra de Ilog in Mindoro Oriental). But each time I visit the place I never fail to find new things to discover, explore, and enjoy. People go there mostly for the whitish sands and crystal clear waters. My family visits the place for the beach and more. Suffice it to say that there can never be a dull moment when one is in Puerto Galera, the poster town for environmental sustainability aside from simply being a tourist haven.

While the more internationally renowned island of Boracay boasts of three beaches —in reality, only one of its beaches, White Beach, is famous— Puerto Galera is host to not just one but several coastlines, pocket beaches, and romantic coves (some tinged with fresh mangroves) that can be enjoyed by all types of nature lovers, not just beach goers. Due to the municipality’s perpetually curving coastlines, particularly the lovely cove-filled bay nestled between the green terrains of Isla de Boquete, Isla de San Antonio, Muelle (at the town proper), Palañgan, and the small peninsula of Sabang, Puerto Galera landed a spot in the list of the world’s most beautiful bays.

Puerto Galera’s beaches may not be at par with Boracay‘s powdery white sands and almost-invisible waters. But still, no one can ever deny Puerto Galera’s pristine beauty especially when we consider its proximity to polluted Metro Manila (the island is a mere four- to five-hour commute from the capital!). Like Ciudad de Tagaytay in Cavite, Puerto Galera relies heavily on tourism all year round. Thus, sustainable development is an imperative in this nature-filled municipality. I learned from the people there, particularly from talks with entrepreneur and Puerto Galera native Captain Peter Manalo of White Beach’s famous Peter’s Inn, Bar, & Restaurant, that the local government works doubly hard with resort owners on how to conserve the beauty of Puerto Galera.

During the early 80s, said Captain Manalo, the scenery at White Beach (Puerto Galera’s most popular beach front) was postcard-perfect, a true island paradise. Back then, there were no resorts to be found. One had to live there like Robinson Crusoe. But the beach was already a turf of regular white visitors aka foreigners (mostly rich Europeans). Ironically, it was they who first saw the potential of Puerto Galera to become the next international summer sensation in the Philippines. Captain Manalo even told me that these white beach goers served as the first guides to Filipinos vacationing from Metro Manila. Laughable but true. I think it was the same case with Boracay.

Captain Manalo was actually one of the pioneers of setting up a commercial establishment in White Beach. But in the following years, especially during the 90s, Puerto Galera became so popular to local and foreign tourists that several capitalists who are not even from town took advantage of the situation. They setup several bars and hotels. The imminent danger of congestion soon followed, and so Captain Manalo, together with other concerned locals and resort owners, took up the cudgels of doing environmental activism, perpetually disturbing the Municipal Hall to come up with environmental projects and viable solutions to curb the ballooning number of resorts. So the last time I heard, the municipal government of Puerto Galera now prohibits the establishment of additional resorts. That is why the eastern part of White Beach remains vacant to this day. Also, the municipal government has written various ordinances protecting the beach, the mangrove forests, etc. One instance: it has ordered resort owners to maintain their establishments from a certain distance from the coastline.

Now that’s sustainable development at work. Kudos!

*******

In case the people of Puerto Galera do not know yet, their lovely municipality will turn 200 years old two years from now. Although the place was first explored by Martín de Goiti and Juan de Salcedo in 1570, the town of Puerto Galera was created through a superior decree only on 23 August 1813. I try to imagine how the Spanish friars who built the población felt when they saw the site for the first time. Having lived in cold Europe, their adventurous hearts must have surely been energized by a surge of excitement, joy, and awe while planning to build a parish there. If Puerto Galera’s beauty continues to mesmerize people today, what more when it was first visited by the indigenous and the Europeans hundreds of years ago? Certainly, in the minds of those friars, building a parish there was tantamount to building a paradise on Earth. There was nothing like it in Europe or perhaps even in the Americas.

When Puerto Galera was founded on that date as a religious mission (all original Philippine towns were), Isla de Mindoro was not yet divided into east (Oriental) and west (Occidental). During those days, the jurisdiction of Puerto Galera was very large: it used to encompass much of the island, stretching as far as the towns of Sablayan and the old parish of Mangarin (now San José), both of which are now in Mindoro Occidental; Puerto Galera itself remained oriental since 1950.

Port of Galleons?

Puerto Galera’s name also deserves attention because it has been said many times in numerous websites and printed articles that the town’s Spanish name was derived from its English equivalent, the “Port of Galleons”. It implies the notion that Puerto Galera’s safely tucked bays and coves provided safe anchorage for the historic Manila-Acapulco galleon ships in times of typhoons. Indeed, de Goiti and Salcedo first explored the place aboard a galleon ship called San Miguel, and that there is a record of another galleon ship that took anchor there during the early 1600s (the Almiranta 2). But those two were not the reasons why Puerto Galera was named as such. It is because Spaniards visited the place, as well as other smaller islands throughout our archipelago, via smaller galleys. Docking bigger galleons in shallow waters were usually cumbersome, time-consuming, and even perilous. Logically, smaller ships are needed. One usually sees this in today’s movies depicting the days of European conquests like in Walt Disney Animation Studios’ Tarzan (1999) and the arrival of the Spaniards in Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto (2006).

Let us also study the meanings of the words galeón and galera as well as differentiate them from one another. As can be gleaned from the preceding paragraph, a galleon and a galley are not the same. In Spanish, a galleon is translated as galeón, not galera. A galleon was a large 15th- to 17th-century sailing vessel which was used as a merchant ship for trade and, occasionally, as a warship in times of threat from the Dutch, Chinese, and Muslim pirates. A galleon was square-rigged on the foremast and mainmast and generally lateen-rigged on one or two after masts. On the other hand, a galley is much smaller compared to a galleon; it is a seagoing vessel propelled mainly by oars (sometimes with the aid of sails).

Galeones were used to cross large oceans. They were transpacific as well as transatlantic. These were what the Spaniards used to travel to faraway lands and transport huge and multiple cargoes as well as passengers. But galeras were inter-island vessels, meant only for short voyages (thus the usage of oars).

That being said, let us then move to an 1871 map of Puerto Galera that was published years ago in Spain. That map’s title? Plano [inédito] del Puerto de Galera y Ensenada del Varadero en la Isla de Mindoro. In English, it means “Map (unpublished) of the Port of the Galley and the cove of the drydock in the Island of Mindoro”.

Go figure why the Spanish language is very important to us Filipinos of today. :-)

More than just a beach

Puerto Galera is more than just a beach destination. Aside from beaches and water sports such as diving, snorkeling, and parasailing (I tried that one! it was an exhilirating experience!), Puerto Galera offers several activities for various types of adventurous people: one can go mountain climbing at Monte Malasimbo; there’s high-altitude golfing at the Ponderosa Golf Club situated about 2,000 feet above sea level (also at Monte Malasimbo); in nearby Barrio Baclayan, one can visit a Mañguián (or Mangyán) village and observe how life would have been today in the Philippines had not the Spaniards arrived — static, indigenous; for spelunkers, they can visit Cueva de Pitón (Python Cave) near Barrio Tabinay (I’m just not sure if there are pythons there for I haven’t been to the cave yet); one can go explore the lush forests around the town and near the beaches, or go off-road biking there; have saltless-water fun at Cáscada de Tamaráo (Tamaraw Waterfalls) and Cáscada de Talipanan (Talipanan Waterfalls); and so much more!

The Excavation Museum

Even culture lovers won’t be left out. At the town proper, within the vicinity of scenic Iglesia de la Concepción Inmaculada (because it’s on top of a hill overlooking the small cove of Muelle), there’s the Excavation Museum dedicated to the memory of Fr. Erwin Thiel, S.V.D. (1902-1982), a German friar much loved by the parishioners.

The small museum (which we learned from then curator Merly Javier) said that The Excavation Museum was under the auspices of the National Museum in Manila. It is sad to note that this small museum was in poor condition, considering the fact that it contains a vast array of artifacts dating to the time before the arrival of the Spaniards. Clay jars, burial jars, plates, cups, soup bowls, and other fragile objects made of porcelain were on display. All these treasures were recovered by archaeologists through the efforts and sponsorship of the late German priest (thus the dedication to him).

But instead of focusing on the artifacts, I couldn’t help but notice the myriad of eyesores in the small, rather cramped up one-storey structure: the museum was not in a good condition; the walls were stained with dirt; there were holes in the roof where rain drops fall (I saw an old map already damaged because of this); there were many red ants taking ​​refuge within the walls of the museum; worse of all, it was very hot inside. And smoke fumes from vehicles plying a nearby road could easily enter the museum All those ancient artifacts, I believe, have to be air conditioned.

But all this was in 2008. I fervently hope that things have already changed there for the better. Fr. Thiel worked very hard to collect these artifacts for posterity. So if the people of Puerto Galera want to honor Fr. Thiel, they should do more than just attaching his name to that of the Excavation Museum.

*******

Personally, I prefer Puerto Galera over Boracay. Budget wise, Puerto Galera is the more viable alternative. As enumerated above, more activities can be done here, not just swimming. And with the recently opened (and very scenic!) Star Tollway, this island resort has become very near Metro Manila. Puerto Galera is simply put, la perla de la Isla de Mindoro.

Below are some photos of our unforgettable Puerto Galera sojourn (21 to 23 May 2008):

On top of White Beach Hotel!

Enjoying the sea together!

Visiting the población.

Hundura Cove.

Iglesia de la Concepción Inmaculada.

Inside the Excavation Museum.

At the municipal hall.

Snorkeling at the crystal-clear waters of the Coral Garden.

With Captain Peter Manalo, owner of Peter's Inn Bar & Restaurant.

This time with the whole family (24 May 2010).

Click here for more photos and text of our 2008 visit (but in Spanish).

The end is near?

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SKYPEing at the office:
[4/20/2010 10:43:57 PM] Pepe Alas: Massive earthquakes, tsunamis, drought, famine, and recently, an enormous volcanic eruption in Europe.
[4/20/2010 10:44:08 PM] Pepe Alas: I think the end is really near.
[4/20/2010 10:44:26 PM] Pepe Alas: So tell me, why should we still pursue our advocacies?
[4/20/2010 10:44:49 PM] Arnold Diaz Arnaiz: we should not
[4/20/2010 10:44:51 PM] Arnold Diaz Arnaiz: :D

There is, I think, a cause for concern. News about massive earthquakes around the globe (Haiti, Chile, and China) and the notorious number of lives it took are becoming more and more common. Tsunami fear caused by those tremors is all over coastline communities. The El Niño phenomenon is still wreaking havoc throughout the Philippines and its surrounding areas. The temperature continues to rise all the world over. And recently, Eyjafjallajökull’s eruption somewhere in Iceland caused a large-scale volcanic ash which disrupted air traffic across Europe and in some parts of North America. Drought and famine is nothing new, too…

…just like thoughts of war.

For instance, the US is always noisy with the way they’ve been policing enemy countries such as North Korea and some Middle East countries (particularly Iran). These WASPs always cry foul over news of nuclear arms being manufactured and stored in these countries. But Arnaldo is correct in his observation: who, in turn, are checking the US’ nuclear arms and its rising military personnel?

No one. Not even the United Nations. Besides, where the heck is the UN’s general headquarters located? LOL!!!

“Hollywood movies are sending us a message, man,” Arnaldo told me this morning as we were going home from our night shift. “Remember those doomsday movies such as Deep Impact and, what was that recent film which starred Danny Glover? 2012? The US presidents in those movies are all blacks.”

And from what race is the actual US president in real life?

Coincidence or conspiracy? I thought Arnaldo is getting crazy, but he does have a point. What was that which Mel Gibson (as Jerry Fletcher) said in the film Conspiracy Theory? “A good conspiracy is unprovable. I mean, if you can prove it, it means they screwed up somewhere along the line.” Of course.

I believe in “good conspiracy theories” — there’s the Club of Rome. Then the Committee of 300. And the nefarious schemes of the CIA against enemy countries. All of them are under the umbrella of the notoriously secretive Freemasons, the enemy of my faith. The claims of all those who have written extensively against these mentioned organizations made sense to what is happening all over the world: drug trade, broken families, same sex marriages, prostitution, anti-life devices (contraceptives), the myth of an overpopulated world, even rock music and pop culture, etc. All I can say about this are but two simple words: evil exists. But not for long.

Because the end is near, I think.

So if it is, why still continue this quixotic advocacy that I share with Arnaldo, Señor Gómez, and JMG?

For hundreds of years, various prophets have preached about the end of the world. Prophets since biblical times have been warning people that the end is near. But it’s already 2010. However, I would like to share these thoughtful words from New York Times bestselling author Richard Moran in his scary book Doomsday: End-of-the-World Scenarios:

Like everything in life… there are some things we can control and some things we cannot.

We can try to do something about the worsening greenhouse effect, cyberterrorism, looming plagues, bioengineering blunders, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Yet any effort we make to forestall or eliminate one of more of these threats will require that we as humans undergo a very fundamental transformation in our way of looking at the world and at each other.

We shall have to put aside the greed, arrogance toward nature, and cultural, religious, and racial hatreds that have brought us to the brink of catastrophe. Throughout the entire history of humankind, we have not been able to conquer these demons. Can we do it now — even if not doing so might will mean the extinction of our species? History and reason tell us probably not. In all likelihood, we shall doom ourselves.

As to the extinction scenarios that are not in our hands –asteroid impacts, massive volcanic eruptions, the coming ice age, mega-tsunamis, and insect invasions– there is simply nothing we can do to alter the inevitable. We may think we can use our mighty technological prowess to save our species — nuclear weapons to destroy incoming asteroids, giant dams to divert warm ocean currents and melt advancing ice sheets — but in the end all our efforts will be futile, for it is nature, not man, that reigns supreme on Earth…

…Perhaps in the final analysis, we should not worry about tomorrow –for tomorrow will be what tomorrow will be– but rather seize each day we are given. Love our families, cherish our friends, and forgive our enemies, open our eyes to the beauty of nature around us. Before it’s too late, we need to stop and smell the roses, for roses — like the human species — cannot bloom forever.

While there is life, there is hope. A big AMEN to that.

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